During the visit of Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi in the Crimea, Russian President answered some questions about the situation in Ukraine and Donbass – and once again there was an attempt to interpret his words as “Putin betrayed the Donbass.” And no one paid attention to the fact that, speaking of the reunification of Donbass with Russia, Putin said nothing about Ukraine.
Originally apperead at Interpolit; Translated for SouthFront.org by Olga Seletskaia
On Friday in Yalta, when Putin and Berlusconi were visiting the city, some people from the crowd that came to welcome the dignitaries shouted:
– Donbass loves you! Take us to Russia! Come to us! We are waiting for you in Donetsk!
The next day, already in Sevastopol, journalists said to the president, “You should have responded to the requests of people from Donbass, or Minsk Agreements should be extended.” This time Putin gave an elaborate answer, and he spoke mainly about Minsk Agreements – saying that “there is no other alternative to peace and reconciliation in this area”. The president spoke about the need to establish direct contact between Kiev and the authorities of Donetsk and Lugansk, about the need to “rehabilitate their socio-economic life”, and to fully restore relations between Ukraine and the DPR with LPR. Putin did not exclude the possibility of the Minsk Agreements extension, and he expressed satisfaction with the fact that shelling of Donbass has stopped.
Putin talked about this before – about the need to implement the Minsk Agreements, and of the importance of direct dialogue between Ukraine and the Republic, which Ukrainian authorities refuse to do. But the most interesting was the very first part of his answer concerning the request for the Donbass to join Russia:
“Our hearts and souls are with the Donbass, but, unfortunately, these issues can not solved “in the street”. These are serious issues that concern the fate of the whole of Russia and the people who live in the Donbass . ”
These words were immediately commented by pseudo-patriots in the traditional style of anti-Putin propaganda – that is, the president again refused to accept the Donbass to Russia, he betrayed the Russian people in Donbass, who are fighting for the right to remain Russian; Putin gave up and surrendered. Given that “true patriots” (they turned out to be the same “useful idiots” who took part in liberal protests in Bolotnaya Square in 2011) interpret in the same way anything that Putin said in the last year – after the first agreements signed in Minsk – one should not attach much importance to their propaganda.
It is clear that Russia is not only the guarantor of the security of Donbass and the very existence of the Republic, but it is interested in the rest of Ukraine not to remain forever in the hands of anti-Russian forces. That is why the emphasis is done to change the internal structure of Ukraine – which, Kiev authorities are trying to avoid (as the devil avoids holy water), understanding that the present, contractual return of Donbass to Ukraine will be an obstacle to the country’s de-Russification. It is this struggle for Ukraine that explains the “reluctance” of Russia to take Donbass, and not the mythical fear of deepening the conflict with the United States or Europe.
What Putin said in Sevastopol not only does not fit into the logic “Putin Betrayed”, but it directly contradicts it. Moreover, for the first time the president has made it clear that if necessary, the question of Donbass’ reunification with Russia will be solved by us alone, without a third party’s participation. After all, the words that the adoption of Donbass to Russia is a serious matter, “which relates to the fate of the whole of Russia and the people who live in the Donbass”, can be interpreted only as follows: only those who live in the Donbass and Russia can make a decision on this. Meaning the DPR-LPR authorities and the Russian authorities. Putin did not mention neither the Ukrainian authorities, nor Ukraine in general. And it is not forgetfulness, and the rest of Putin’s speech does not cancel the importance and benefits of the Minsk Agreements. Because the Minsk Agreement, in Putin’s own words, is the way to “peace and reconciliation” in the Donbass. But its reunion with Ukraine is possible only in case of changes in Ukraine itself – which Kiev does not want. If Kiev is reluctant even to have the direct talks with Donetsk, then what kind of reunification can we talk about? It is clear that both sides are preparing for a new war – but this only confirms the fact that real negotiations can begin only after the change of power in Kiev or after new hostilities.
Russia can not turn its back on Donbass by default. Moreover, Russia’s support will continue, be it in the current form of the DPR and the LPR’s existence as “temporary structures “, or when they become part of completely hypothetical non-existent “Ukrainian federation.” Putin mentioned that nothing prevents Russia from adopting the Donbass with the purpose to eliminate any doubt in Russia’s determination to support the Donbass.
The desire to adopt Donetsk “right now”, as the desire to quickly “bring back Kharkov, Odessa, Kiev” is understandable. But the reunion with the Ukrainian “malorossian” branch of the Russian people can happen only after sobering up and liberation of the people of Ukraine. To bring Donetsk to its Motherland Russia is easy, but that would mean postponing indefinitely the issue of reunification with the rest of Ukraine.
It is necessary to combine the struggle for Russian identity in Donbass with the struggle for the future of those Russians who consider themselves Ukrainians in Ukraine – that’s what Vladimir Putin is doing. That in itself – even without taking into account external factors of the struggle for Ukraine – is more than a Herculean task. And who do you have to be to declare Putin “a traitor to the Russian world”, ready to give up on the Donbass?
The fact that Putin would not ask anybody’s permission to adopt the Donbass was clear before, but because of the anti-Russian anti-Putin propaganda it is useful to remind the important things. Especially when we are witnessing the emerge of a new propaganda myth – about the trade off the Donbass for Syria .
The myth exists in two diametrically opposed versions – one mainly for domestic and the other for external use .
According to the first myth, “Putin is stepping up military assistance to Syria in order to facilitate surrender of the Donbass”. The Russian public would allegedly be fed by the mass media news about further success of Russian weapons in the Middle East, and that would allow to distract their attention from the Ukraine. In the meantime “oxygen” to the heroes of Novorossia would be blocked, forcing them to make peace with Kiev.
This is not the fantasies of a lunatic – but this is quite a “serious” analysis of the situation. The only purpose of it is to present the president as a traitor of Russian interests and Russians in the Donbass.
But this version is still mostly for Russian audience. Whereas there is a different, the export version, which was being so actively promoted that it started to look believable even for some of its authors. Though now they feel confused – the unfolding events directly contradict the version.
According to it, “Putin is betraying Assad to get back from the US concessions on Ukraine.” This version was launched last summer – when Turkish President Erdogan, after a conversation with Mr. Putin said that he believes that Russia is not so much holding on to Assad, – and then this was picked up by the Western media and analysts .
By itself, the logic of a trade-off is typically American, so no surprise that this version seems plausible to some in the West. At the same time the fact that Russia did not bargain for its important role in the conclusion of the Iranian deal, surprised even President Obama. Americans can not imagine that Moscow does not think in terms of trade-off and bargaining.
The fact that Russia actively helped to conclude an agreement on Iran – though States feared that Moscow would thwart it in revenge for US behavior in Ukraine – is of course, not because Russia wanted to please Washington. Sanctions removal from Iran and strengthening our neighboring country is in Russia’s national interests. Likewise, it explains Russia’s policy in Syria – which has always been clear, if we evaluate it in terms of the real interests of Russia, not of fictional games with the Americans.
Russia did not hand over Al-Assad because it is in our interest to defend the very existence of Syria. And Assad, and Syria have always been our allies, and it is in our interest to preserve this country, which is a key in this very heated region of the world. The realization that the American plan for the “democratization of the Greater Middle East” is increasingly becoming an uncontrollable chaotization of the region only strengthens Russia’s determination to actively prevent the collapse of Syria.
The possibility of our warships to dock in Syria was only optional, but is not the main motive for Russia’s support of President Assad. The main thing is that Moscow understood that any other government would not be able to keep the unity of the country and, therefore, the flame of war would only continue to spread in the region. It is impossible to trade-off Assad – because Russia supports not the Syrian president personally, but the system of government that guarantees the preservation of this country. Four years of war, naturally, undermined the power of Damascus. It lost more than half of the territory, millions of refugees have fled the country. Worse than that is the emerge of Caliphate as an alternative not only to Assad, but to Syria, Iraq and other neighboring Arab countries, and Americans can not handle it.
What is the point for Russia to “trade-off Assad”, if this is understood as not just a change of the president, but the elimination of the current model of the Syrian government itself? So that States could establish in Damascus as helpless and puppet regime as in Baghdad? So that Russia gained the reputation of a country that betrays its allies? And the main thing – we do not need further chaotization of the Middle East, whether managed or unmanaged.
It is ridiculous to assume that Putin could come up with the idea of ”trading off Assad for Donetsk .” It is absolutely clear that the US would not let Kiev go easily. Even if to imagine such an insane version of the agreement that we refuse to support Assad, and Americans let puppet Kiev regime go – this would not bring any constructive results.
States would not give up on supporting the Kiev authorities: for the sake of clashing Ukraine with Russia, they have gone for a global confrontation with Moscow. Although Washington understands the precariousness of the current regime in Kiev, and it is also well aware of the vital importance of Ukraine for Russia; that’s why it will not abandon its plans to westernize the Ukraine.
Nevertheless, western press nourished the idea of “trading-off Assad” for a long time – until recently it became clear that Moscow is stepping up military supplies to Damascus. Then it was replaced with another version: “Putin increases pressure in Syria to make the West go for concessions on Ukraine.” That is, we put pressure in the Middle East to make the United States worry, we would require them to give concessions on Ukraine, we would receive them, and then we would quietly “betray Assad .” But why would we want to do that? There is no answer, but again, there are reproaches in mass media about “Putin betrayed”, if not Donbass or Ukraine, but at least Syria.
Exchanges and trade-offs are part of a big geopolitical game. But only if it concerns current secondary issues. Globally, there can’t be any “trade-offs” about major geopolitical issues. Because by agreeing to discuss the possibility of a trade-off, you demonstrate that the issue is the subject of bargaining. Something that you are ready to give up or to buy, can’t be very vital. This kind of mentality already dooms to deception and defeat.